Using Kelvin for White Balance in Birth Photography

Many new photographers struggle with white balance. We often fail to get it right in camera, and then we spend hours correcting our mistakes when we edit.  Jennifer Mason, a Michigan based birth photographer, shares her tips about using Kelvin for white balance and how it can change your editing process for the better to get it right in camera!   

But as birth photographers, we work in much more difficult lighting conditions. The blinding yellow spotlight in the hospital, the contrasting blue computer monitors, and often other overhead lighting can turn small white balance problems into big ones. I recently shot a birth for a local wedding photographer, and afterward she said, 'I don't know how you shoot in that light, it was the worst lighting conditions, ever!"   

It's hard to see what tones we need for great skin coloring, and even harder to nail that 'in camera' when you find yourself in a difficult lighting situation. The problem is, if you don't get it correctly during the shot, it makes editing to correct the wrong tones, much harder!  

There are several ways in camera to get the best white balance, but I'm going to talk about Kelvin. 


Kelvin is simply a scale of measurement and it's measuring temperature in the form of heat.  It ranges from cool tones (blues) to warm tones (yellow/oranges).  You can find Kelvin on most cameras in the WB menu setting.  It's icon is usually delineated with a large "K" on most cameras(some crop frames don't have Kelvin at all).

Kelvin ranges from 2500 to 10,000; but your default Kelvin temperature is probably set to about 5500, which is outside/daylight temperature. However, for births, the temperature charts don't always reflect the lighting situations that we are in. 

Kelvin is a general scale of cool to warm, just like the Blue/Yellow White Balance Slider in Lightroom. I find it easy to use, because I just correct for the problem.  So I'll take a photo, and if the image is too warm (which is normally the case, because there is generally *warm* lighting in the hospital), I correct for the warmth by turning the dial down to a cooler tone.  I usually adjust by 500, then take a photo and check, then readjust. 

The photo below was taken during morning light in a hospital room with no lights on and NO flash. The coolest my Kelvin goes on my Markiii is 2500, I took a photo at each 1,000 increment. Where do you think the correct temperature is?


In the photo above, you can see the image looks fairly correct at 4500 or 5500. Depending on how warm you like your images. 


The temperature slider increases to 10,000.  I've never used higher than 6500 at a birth before.  Even in the image above, 6500 feels overly warm to me. The higher the numbers go, the warmer the image gets.  

Here's a cesarean image at different Kelvin levels. There is a lot of blue tint from the curtain and scrubs, but the image still looks best from around 3500-4500K.  NO FLASH.


When I'm trying to decide what temperature looks the best as I adjust, I always look at the skin tone of mom and then baby.  If mom is looking overly orange, I'll cool the image down a touch by turning the dial down.  If mom's skin is looking blue or green, I'll turn the dial up. 

Take Away

1. Kelvin gives you more control of your white balance in camera.

2. The temperature scale ranges from cool to warm.  If an image is too warm, then you need to turn the dial to the cooler side by decreasing the numbers on the dial.  If the image is too cool, then warm it up by increasing the numbers. 

3. Focus on mom's skin tone. Let mom and baby be your guide. 

4. Remember that white balance CAN be corrected in post, but your editing process will be much smoother if you nail white balance while you're shooting. 

Learn More

We designed our BBH Film presets for the HARSH and challenging lighting conditions that we face as birth photographers. If you want to add another tool to your editing process, we'd highly suggest you explore our presets and brushes

With love,

Jennifer Mason